The rise, the fall, and life after SanTina for Mirza and Hingis

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The rise, the fall, and life after SanTina for Mirza and Hingis

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Amlan Majumdar

08/11/2016

All good things must come to an end, and so has 'SanTina'. It was fun while it lasted, though. 14 WTA titles, including 3 Grand Slams, and the No.1 ranking—the pair dominated the doubles circuit like few we have witnessed so far. They might even add one more title to their trophy cabinet when they return to defend their end-of-season WTA championships in October. But, as Frodo said, “It's gone! It's done!”

When Martina Hingis announced her return from retirement in 2013, very few expected her to recapture her glory days. She returned to the WTA tour partnering Sabine Lisicki, whom she had coached. Hingis had still retained most of her abilities. Her grace and poise did not desert her. But, she still was not the 22-year-old who had taken the tennis world by a storm. She enjoyed limited success on her return. She won titles in Miami and Wuhan partnering Lisicki and Flavia Pennetta respectively, and even made it to the final of the US Open with the later. But, it was not enough. Not for someone who is used to excellence.

Sania Mirza at that time was just beginning to make her mark in the doubles circuit. After failing to make it in the singles and struggling with injuries, Sania Mirza directed her focus on doubles. She was rising up the ranks at a swift pace, first alongside Bethanie Mattek-Sands and then with Cara Black. However, despite that success eluded her at the Grand Slams. By 2015, she had won three mixed doubles Grand Slams, but none in women's doubles. Every time she fell just short. Quarterfinal exits at the 2014 Australian Open and the French Open followed by second round exit at the Wimbledon and then a semifinal exit at the US Open at the hands of Hingis and Pennetta to end the season.

Both Hingis and Mirza were in need of a bit more, and they found each other.

Both Hingis and Mirza were in need of a bit more, and they found each other.

It was perfect from start, right from the moment they took the field for the first time at the Indian Wells. They complemented each other perfectly, both on and off the court. Sania's strong forehand and ground strokes complemented Hingis' net play and strong backhand, while off the court, Sania's vibrant and outspoken self went well alongside the shy and introverted Martina Hingis.

The duo played with inhibited freedom and aggression, and very few could stand up to them. Mirza’s game improved by leaps and bounds as well. She became a better player at the nets and gained better control over her shots. One thing that both Mirza and Hingis had in common was their confidence, in their personal abilities as well as that of their partner's. That is what made them such a difficult opponent. Back in January, they came back from the dead in second set of the final to win the Sydney Open. A day before that, the duo came from behind to win in the semis. Last year, they displayed similar ability to bounce back in the final of the China Open, when they defeated Chan Hao-Ching and Chan Yung-Jan 6-7 (9-11), 6-1, 10-8.

 © Getty Images

'SanTina' conquered nearly everything on their path, and they embarked on an unbeaten run that threatened to break the 44-match unbeaten streak registered by Jana Novotna and Natasha Zvereva. The duo had grabbed the attention of a nation, and Hingis was no longer a 'foreigner' in India. She was one of our own. The craze around them had reached such heights that the Indian media even erased Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver's 109-match unbeaten record from the history books. 44 became the new world record in India, and SanTina were close to breaking it.

But they fell short. The run ended at 41, when they lost of Elena Vesnina and Daria Kasatkina 6-2, 4-6, 5-10 in the quarterfinal of the Qatar Open in February, just days after they had lifted the Australian Open in dominating fashion.

The thing with this kind of streaks and winning runs is that once it is halted, it inevitably leads to big slide downhill. Very few can get up the next morning and start from scratch. It takes immense mental fortitude. Look at Arsenal's record-breaking unbeaten run in the Premier League back in 2004 for example. Once that run was halted, the squad fell apart.

Since that defeat at the Qatar Open, Mirza and Hingis have not been at their best. They hit a lean patch, which saw them face exits early at the Miami Open and the Indian Wells. Mirza and Hingis went into the French Open aiming for a career slam, but a third round exit ended their hopes. At the Wimbledon, they crashed out in the quarters.

Both of them were in need of a fresh start alongside new partners who have not been scared by the same trauma.

The split was inevitable. Both of them were in need of a fresh start alongside new partners who have not been scared by the same trauma, and now both of them will face different challenges as they go their separate ways.

Life has not been too kind for Martina Hingis. For someone who possesses such talent, she has underachieved in her career—that is despite her winning 43 WTA singles and 55 WTA doubles titles so far. She was destined for much more. 76 out of those 98 WTA titles (singles and doubles) were won by her by the age of 22, and she is 35 now. Someone like her, who has had a history of injuries, will not have a career into the late 30s. She needs success, and she needs it now.

For Sania Mirza, this will represent her biggest challenge so far. She has reached the No.1 spot in the rankings, but staying there is a bigger challenge, especially, with Hingis no longer by her side. However, this will also provide her with a chance to prove herself once again. Chance for her to prove that she can win without Hingis as well. Perhaps that is the challenge she needs at this stage of her career.

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